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Burnout During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Online Transition


The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a period of global uncertainty. Anxiety about the future and transitioning into a new normal is at the forefront of many students' minds.

Across the U.S., students lives were upended when schools, including American University, ended in-person classes for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester and sent all students home. Classes have since been moved online, requiring that students learn from home.  

This transition can lead students to feel especially overwhelmed— having to deal with distractions at home, and for some students uncertainty about housing and necessary resources. Unfamiliar online class structures and the absence of in-person resources can lead to college students feeling more anxious.

These additional stressors can lead students who are already busy with schoolwork and nervous about finals being right around the corner feeling burnt out. 

Burnout, stress, and anxiety are not the same condition, but all can be a result of being overworked, and can have detrimental effects such as exhaustion. 

The World Health Organization added burnout as an occupational phenomenon in May 2019.  WHO said, "Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed." WHO includes exhaustion and increased cynicism towards one's work amongst the symptoms of burnout.


There is still ongoing discussion of what exactly burnout is, but many students at American University can attest to feeling exhausted from classwork, social life, and issues they may be having at home. 

Nia Sosa, freshman at AU, said "Burnout is a feeling that many students get. It's when your schoolwork and just life in general has gotten to be too much, and it's all a little overwhelming."

Sosa added that burnout can look different for everyone. When she is burnt out she begins to feel tired all of the time or her friends point out changes in her behavior. Sosa also noted that it can be difficult for students to seek help when they become burnt out.

"I think for a lot us, myself included, it's scary to admit that you're overwhelmed to someone else, especially someone who might be like authority," Sosa said. 

There are several resources on campus that can help students balance their responsibilities, including the Academic and Support Access Center. ASAC provides a variety of disability support and academic support resources, like testing accommodations, tutoring, supplemental instruction, and academic coaching.

ASAC's on campus facility is closed for the remainder of the Spring 2020 Semester, but their resources can still be accessed virtually by visiting their website and American University's COVID-19 FAQ website.

Carmen Rodriguez, coordinator of academic success coaching and an adjunct instructor for AU Experience I said, "Students who have utilized Academic Coaching and shared that they are feeling ‘burnt out,'  primarily describe it as difficulty getting started on or finishing up assignments and that this differs from how they have approached their academics in the past."


Academic coaching works to see how students who seek help are managing their time and aids them in keeping up with their commitments. Rodriguez understands that students also need to make time for themselves and that this will help their academic success.

"We then explore what can be shifted to make way for moments of joy and self-care. When appropriate, we refer students to campus partners to address challenges that fall beyond our scope," Rodriguez said.

This sometimes includes referring students to other ASAC services, like the Writing Center, Tutoring Lab, and Quantitative Academic Support. Academic Coaching also refers students to the Student Health Center or the Counseling Center if needed.

The amount of students seeking assistance from the academic coaches fluctuates throughout the semester. Rodriguez also said that the challenges students face also change throughout the semester. She described how at the beginning of the semester students seek to develop organizational and time management skills.

During the third and fourth weeks students seek help with a large project or essay, and during midterms and finals, students seek test prep skills.

While academics are a major stressor for college students, Rodriguez acknowledges that all other categories of wellness are important for students to be balanced and successful and urges students to explore and utilize the resources that AU provides to help manage or avoid burnout.

Sosa also recognized that students should try and prioritize their emotional well-being when feeling overwhelmed and personally enjoys doing her own self-care that includes journaling and relaxing alone.

"While it may sound counterintuitive, your academic wellness is most sustainable when you are mindful of your other categories of wellness—emotional, physical, financial, social, etc." Rodriguez said.

There is no doubt that this is a stressful and uncertain time, but it is important that students be cautious of burnout. Students should make sure they are taking care of themselves and prioritize their mental and physical well-being during this COVID-19 pandemic and period of self-isolation. 

Visit ASAC's website for more information on how to utilize their resources and seek academic help.

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